When Pretty Guardian Soldier Sailor Moon premiered on Japanese television in 1992 it was an instant success, with young girls (and maybe a few young boys) falling in love with the air-headed (but extremely likable) Usagi Tsukino and her alter ego Sailor Moon. At the time it was one of the biggest series for children to premier on TV and worldwide success soon followed shortly afterward.
The result of Sailor Moon’s success meant that Toei Animation had a merchandise-friendly franchise, and they didn’t hesitate to make video games, toys, and music CDs for their young, captivated audience! But have the tides turned? Sure, Sailor Moon seems bigger than it has ever been before, but do kids watch it? Do they buy the merchandise? Is the franchise even geared towards kids anymore? While it would be easy to laugh at such questions, when one takes a deeper look one can see a franchise that has quietly pivoted towards being a franchise for adults (and did so with such graceful stealth that most people didn’t notice).
Sailor Moon in the ’90s
While it may be difficult to assess whether Sailor Moon’s creator – Naoko Takeuchi – ever intended to make a series that was merchandisable when Toei Animation decided to adapt the series they made merchandise a high priority. Eagle-eyed viewers of the show may have noticed that Sailor Moon and her friends all had their own unique gadgets in the series. Sailor Mercury had her computer. Sailor Jupiter had those earrings. Sailor Moon herself gained and lost various weapons, and a pivotal moment between her and Tuxedo Mask involved a music box.
There is a transformation pen to help with disguises, and if you REALLY paid close attention (like my niece did) you’ll notice that Usagi gets nail polish on her fingers during her transformation despite the fact that she wears gloves during all the fights. All these items are no coincidence: they were placed in the show because Bandai made tie-in merchandise to capitalize on the success of the show. And the nail polish…well, one of the sponsors insisted on that visual because they had a line of makeup that would tie into the series, and this was a subtle way to promote it.
When the series came to America it was done so with the intent to sell dolls to girls. Commercials advertising the dolls (like the one seen above) would play across television airwaves. Because the show had poor time slots before moving to Cartoon Network, most kids didn’t know what the dolls were from and probably thought the series was about teenagers who liked to accessorize (or something to that effect). Other countries made more appropriate action figures and fighting video games based on the series, and every country had its own line of soundtracks based on the show. While adults COULD watch Sailor Moon, by every indication many didn’t, and the market reflected that.
Sailor Moon in the 2020s
On July 6th, 2012, it was announced that a new Sailor Moon anime to celebrate the 25th anniversary called Sailor Moon Crystal would be premiering in 2013 (which got delayed until 2014). This new anime would be a more faithful adaptation to the original manga by Takeuchi, unlike the 90s anime which took more liberties with the source material. Whether people realized it or not, this would also result in many of the merchandise-infused items found in the original series not appearing at all. Indeed, Sailor Moon Crystal was primarily on the internet where teens and adults were more likely to watch it, and not given airtime on a Japanese network that would be watched more by children.
For that matter, in America, the series was given a TV-14 rating, and the censoring that ensured family suitability for kids in the 90s was nowhere to be found. The merchandise seemed to reflect the more adult sensibilities of the new anime as well.
Action figures, video games, and accessory dolls are either few and far between (or they don’t exist at all). There is a new Sailor Moon Club whose primary membership seems to be adults (if Instagram is anything to go by). While dolls and toys are difficult to find in stores these days, Sailor Moon charms and expensive jewelry have been released on a yearly basis for several years now.
Music CDs are still being pressed, but they are now priced for collectors and released in limited quantities. Kid’s t-shirts are nowhere to be found on the official Sailor Moon store page, yet expensive perfume sits front and center for all to see.
Sailor Moon Today
The series franchise is now celebrating its 35th anniversary with a two-part movie poised to wrap up the Sailor Moon Crystal era. A museum dedicated to the franchise has opened in Japan and new merchandise continues to be made. What fans may not realize is that none of this is stuff a child would buy. For that matter, while Sailor Moon cosplayers are common at anime conventions, you don’t see too many kids dressed as the Sailor Soldiers (it’s mainly adults). While the franchise is still being passed on to a new generation, when you follow the money it’s clear that adults are the primary audience for Sailor Moon these days.
While there is no doubt a new generation of kids are being introduced to the Sailor Soldiers’ adventures, the lack of merchandise for children and the constant new experiences made for adults shows that somewhere along the line Toei Animation, Bandai, and even Kodansha (whose artbooks and latest manga editions are priced too high for most kids’ allowance) seemed to read the room and realize that the franchise was more valuable to adults than it was to children, and pivoted accordingly. It’s weird to think that a series that was primarily made to sell merchandise to kids is now selling merchandise to adults, but that is the state of the franchise today.